When Have Visual Novel Anime Ever Been Good?

Haven’t actually read any of these articles, but I’m guessing I don’t enjoy most of what they list as good.

So I didn’t exactly get much hate for that post I did a while back where I basically blasted Romeo Tanaka and his poor anime-writing skills (probably because all the “visual novel”-tards have taken to ignoring me at this point), but there was one dude who tried to point out the faults in my opinion by comparing Tanaka’s works to Shakespeare and some of the faulty movie adaptations coming from his stuff, and how I shouldn’t judge an entire medium based on these shitty anime, to which I just laughed. The only way that comparison would hold true is if Shakespeare wrote “choose your own adventure” books and made all his characters little girls who are so weak to compliments that saying they’re cute might cause them to cum. For the majority of every visual novel ever, you’re mostly put in the eyes of the main protagonist, bonding with teenage girls and the occasional guy whilst either laughing or groaning at the dialogue that’s only engaging because it’s directed at you. And let’s not forget that they’re mostly written with a non-linear mindset, with multiple routes and such that anime tries to cram all in at once to the point of narrative dissonance. A mindset that these writers can’t seem to get out of when they make original anime considering that stupid “come up with the set pieces and character types first and string the plot around them” air that always surrounds them, causing the progression of those stories to feel too railroad-y, even if you ignore the massive amounts of banal “buildup” you have to sit through before you can get to the meat of the story.

Just to reiterate what I’ve said in previous posts and what should have been obvious back when people were criticizing the hell out of Clannad after it broke popularity records, the reason I hate most visual novel anime is the same reason why I hate pretty much every other time a video game gets adapted to another medium: because when you remove the gameplay, you suddenly realize how dumb and shallow the writing quality actually is. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is still considered one of the greatest games of all-time, but if it wasn’t for you controlling Link, all you’d be left with is a mostly mute kid with an expressionless face (that’s still preferable to his TV show incarnation, mind you) wearing green, walking from setpiece to setpiece on some generic fantasy destiny quest to defeat some big bad that’s mainly evil because the plot says so. I don’t care if the drama in either Clannad or Rewrite is still bad even by whatever standards exist in that fucked-up medium. That’s going to mean jackshit if you don’t take out the video game-y nature when making them into shows first, and Rewrite: The Anime was disjointed as hell for no reason other than fanservice that didn’t even work due to how badly produced it was. Was it really so necessary to put in all the shit humor AND add some of your own to pad out the fucking runtime? It reminds me of Monogatari and how it constantly distracts from the main plot by having Araragi sexually harass the females for twenty minutes just to get a decent length out of the product whilst saying out loud that they’re being ironic about it – not helped by the fact that Rewrite has a lot of the same voice actresses.

And yet, despite my utter contempt for the structure of these shows, I still continue to watch them. Because even moreso than light novel adaptations, there’s the occasional VN anime that manages to be good in spite of the large handicap set against it. My love for Clannad: The Movie has already been well-documented, so I’m just going to skip that one and talk about every other visual novel anime that’s impressed me through my over-a-decade long anime journey, whether they be adaptations or written by a visual novel writer going “original”. It’s not exactly a short list either.

Fair warning: I don’t think any of these are great anime, so don’t feel like you need to go out of your way to watch anything I list on here.

Umineko no Naku no Koro Ni

Easily one of the funniest things to ever come from the world of visual novels and anime in general, Umineko may have gotten a lot of heat from the source material fans because they can’t seem to realize that Ryukishi07’s writing is about as dumb as trying to distract your girlfriend from discovering that video of the one-night stand you performed last night by revealing that you’re a serial killer (don’t think too much about that simile. I certainly didn’t). The story was very campy, the art direction was ridiculous, the characters were charismatically dumb as fuck (how Battler can deny the existence of magic so many times when his very situation is magical is beyond me), and the opening is unskippable if you want to identify as a human being with a soul. It’s kind of like Birdemic or Another except not quite that bad and a lot more fun in general, but the overall experience is similar enough to make the comparison. Like Higurashi, parts of it haven’t aged well. But unlike the former, quite a number of its good parts still hold up to this day.

Having Said That: The last few episodes were a load of shit, changing the protagonist to a whiny girl that detracted massively from the hilarious interplay between Battler and Beatrice. And it didn’t help that said arc was the longest, going on for eight agonizing episodes.

Planetarian

The Key adaptation that slipped by most people’s notice because they were either too busy focusing on Rewrite or too busy ignoring the existence of Key works altogether. Its story wasn’t great, but it had enough modest ambitions to be good for what it was regarding its post-apocalyptic themes and the hopelessness of Yumemi’s situation living in a world that can no longer provide for her. It also made sure that the character interactions and the story went hand-in-hand rather than keeping the two in different rooms in different countries like a Godfrey Ho movie, like pretty much every visual novel adaptation since the new millennium started. Free from the broadcast restrictions that plague most anime, Planetarian was paced perfectly and its visual storytelling abilities were well-above average. Even if it wasn’t particularly refreshing, it sets a standard for how visual novel anime should be adapted in general.

Having Said That: The ending was awkwardly executed and tried too hard to tug at the viewer’s heartstrings whilst not trying hard enough to make it as sad as it should have been (seriously, what was up with that happy music?). Also, anyone with a brain could have seen that tragedy coming.

Psycho-Pass

Yeah, let’s ignore those underwhelming sequels and just focus on the first season. Most people know that I don’t really care about Gen Urobuchi for the exact same reasons I don’t care about any other anime writer not named Makoto Shinkai: because putting too much emphasis on staff over result is a shitty fan practice that needs to die. But Psycho-Pass is the one thing he’s made that actually interested me. Okay, I don’t exactly love it anymore, but it still had really interesting things to say about futuristic law enforcement and the pros/cons of a society run by a “perfect” system with decent world-building and a fun main character. Oh, and did I mention that it barely resembled a visual novel anime what with its quick start, more episodic structure, and little time devoted to side characters that don’t affect anything? Just goes to show that the best visual novel anime is one when you can’t tell it’s a visual novel anime.

Having Said That: It wasn’t a very subtle show, often being too in love with the concept to the point that it feels like the idea is guiding the plot rather than the actual story. Also, you can predict pretty much every plot twist that happens.

ef-a tale of memories

I didn’t really like this show when I first saw it, but over time, I’ve come to realize just how much this show triumphed over not only visual novel efforts, but other Shaft works in general in terms of characterization. It combined an interesting visual style with good pacing, clever editing, and characters who confronted their problems rather than running away from them, making it somewhat of a stand-out in a medium where anime romance is about as well-written as a song from that Canadian Donkey Kong Country cartoon. And if you’ve never seen that show…don’t. I’m not kidding when I say that watching this show’s shitty sequel would be less of a mistake.

Having Said That: The conflicts are a little dated (car accident, no family, love triangle, etc.) and the overall lessons aren’t as profound as they used to be. Also, that phone scene was fucking dumb, and I will hear nothing to the contrary.

Danganronpa 3

An overlooked work from last season that actually deserved its reputation somewhat because you need to play the games to understand what’s actually going on, and even if you had, the confusing airing order wasn’t helping matters. Imagine if someone who didn’t do any research on the show jumped in after it finished airing. Chances are, they’d be very confused. Either way, if you did get caught up on the Danganronpa lore in time for this one, DR3 spared no expense at concluding things with a bang. The new characters were interesting, the old characters stayed interesting, its take on talent, social complexes, anime cliches, and the on-going battle between hope and despair was cool, and it gave birth to some of the franchise’s best defining moments. Some of the story choices it made didn’t sit well with the fans, but who gives a shit what the fans want anyways? As long as it makes sense and is executed fine, a few retcons aren’t going to hurt anyone.

Having Said That: Although the production was way better on this project than the first Danganronpa adaptation (which I also like, but not to the point that I’d spotlight it), it’s still a Seiji Kishi anime, so the visuals are kinda boring when people aren’t getting murdered. Also, the overall narrative is weaker than the previous main entries due to the need to tie everything together along with its lame fan-pleasing ending. But then again, that’s typical of all third installments, isn’t it?

Air: The Motion Picture

Considered by the elitist crowd to be the only good Key anime, Air: The Movie was a significant improvement on that inconsistent TV show (which is ironic because it came out before the show) in every single way possible. Good visuals, a more manageable cast, and a lot of the dumb plot decisions like turning the main character into a crow or having the main girl say “gao” all the time were all but removed in order to tell an intriguing story about fate, curses, and reincarnation through the progression of time, kind of like a lesser version of The Fountain. While it had better execution than the Clannad movie to the point that even the final scene when Mizusu kicks the bucket on that beach was actually engaging rather than fucking dumb, I found the story to be more lacking, which is why it’s not amongst my favorites. Still, in terms of getting high drama from that company, the movie version of Air is definitely your best bet

Having Said That: The romance between Mizusu and Yukito came off as a little creepy to me given that she’s a highschool student and he’s got to be in his mid-twenties. Also, I never watched this movie without the dub, so I dunno if that contributed to anything or not.

Steins;Gate

I admit whilst making this list that I was trying really hard to deny I ever had fun with this show. Mostly because almost to Clannad-like levels, it defines pretty much everything I hate about when visual novels try to make it into the anime world. The long slog of nothing but buildup and character moments whilst wondering where the fuck the actual narrative was. The annoying and extraneous moe girls that were included as some kind of checklist. The ending that overreached at a critical moment (although given how a bunch of what’s on this list didn’t exactly end all that great either, that’s not really much of an excuse). The “best anime EVAR” fandom that made it seem like this show was on the same level as either of the first two Terminator movies. But I can’t deny that when it did work, Steins;Gate gave me “best anime of the season” thrills with a complicated main character and an interesting take on time travel that functioned as more than a crutch for the plot to work. I still remember that moment when Mamoru Miyano changed pitches to reflect Okabe’s breakdown in a “Re:Zero if it was actually good” sort of manner, and damn was it haunting.

Having Said That: This anime really could have benefitted from cutting half its cast out of the picture and trimming the runtime into a one-cour show. Who even cares about the otaku girl or the trap anyways? Also, the sequels (and milking in general) are utter shit.

Persona 3: The Movie

Although it’s more of a JRPG than a visual novel, all the Persona games starting with the third have been very visual-novel based so I’m counting it on this list. And while I kinda liked the first Persona 4 anime, it has a few too many problems to list it as “good” or all that entertaining. The Persona 3 movie adaptations however, fared far better. Yes, the story was distractingly compressed and nothing about the main character was really all that genuine, but not to the point that it got in the way of the fun. The visuals were lively, everyone besides the main dude was characterized well, the fanservice moments were worked in fine, and the overall narrative regarding death and such was still told in an engaging manner with all the main points intact. Not to mention, I liked some of the changes the anime made to accompany the move from non-interactive to interactive like having Ken admire Shinjiro before realizing who he was. Each movie in this four-part project didn’t exactly have the most standalone of plots, and obviously watching them is no substitute for playing the game. Still, if you want a taste of why the Shin Megami Tensei series is one of my favorite video game franchises of all-time, these Persona 3 movies are entertaining enough samples.

Having Said That: The action kinda sucked, which given it’s the idiot who directed Jormungand along with visuals from A-1 Pictures, should come as no surprise. Also, I’m too used to the English dub, so when I discovered that these movies weren’t getting one, I had some mild resignation in the back of my mind whilst getting through them.

****

Anyways, I’m not expecting a visual novel anime to really impress me anytime soon, but if a good one does show up, I’ll at least give it the praise it deserves. Until then, all I can do is laugh at the people who got to acquiring the Rewrite visual novel in response to that show’s suckage whilst dreading its upcoming sequel season in a few months.

Minor Quips

  • Keep in mind I haven’t looked into those Canadian visual novels.
  • They should have just made a Rewrite movie in the same vein as that X/1999 film from the 90s. Now that would have been actually funny.

10 responses to “When Have Visual Novel Anime Ever Been Good?

  1. Adapting video games and VN to a non-interactive medium is tricky, but anime has at least done it better than Hollywood. And I’m not even sure video game writers even understand how to do medium-appropriate storytelling either. They often resort to lengthy cutscenes or terrible quick time event.

    For other stuff:

    -Honestly, I don’t like Persona 3 that much, it’s still very grindy and repetitive like most rpgs.

    -I don’t think Planetarian belong to this list. It’s completely linear and written more like a conventional novel.

    -Danganronpa 3: I might check it out someday. How long/difficult are the games?

    -I like steins; gate, and there’s a good reason why it’s popular

    -Some visual novels can work as anime with proper editing and cutting down the terrible humor/harem hijinks (look at you, Muv Luv). Seriously, serious drama and dumb humor rarely work together! On a related note, I can’t believe people actually defend Drifter’s humor.

    • Adapting video games and VN to a non-interactive medium is tricky, but anime has at least done it better than Hollywood. And I’m not even sure video game writers even understand how to do medium-appropriate storytelling either. They often resort to lengthy cutscenes or terrible quick time event.

      I think anime succeeds better on that front because that style is more fitting with what you’d expect from video games. And yeah, I may like those Yakuza games, but oh god the cutscenes are longer than Final Fantasy’s.

      Honestly, I don’t like Persona 3 that much, it’s still very grindy and repetitive like most rpgs.

      Understandable if you’re not into the gameplay. Personally, barring the handhelds, I haven’t play an SMT game whose gameplay I didn’t love. I really ate up Tokyo Mirage Session’s repetitive flash (although the actual story and characters were pretty eh).

      Danganronpa 3: I might check it out someday. How long/difficult are the games?

      First game is like 20 hours and the second is 30. You could trim the runtime down if you look up the solutions on IGN…but you didn’t hear it from me (although there’s no shame in using Gamefaqs to discover which character likes which gift).

      -I like steins; gate, and there’s a good reason why it’s popular

      Agh! I knew I left something off this list. I wrote this to keep myself awake because work made me stay up till 5 in the morning for some website deployment. Adding it now.

  2. Can’t say I’m a fan of how many of the questions from the first Danganronpa game were sort of handwaved with one word starting with the letter b. Not all that hard to see why folks would say that it retroactively ruined SDR2 the connections between Despair arc and it are a bit of mixed bag.

    A shame since a lot of problems could’ve just not been included. Stuff like Sakakura letting Junko perpetrate mass murder just so he could stay in the closet, Hinata Kamakura Jesusing his classmates back to life, killing off and bringing back Kirigiri, all of it didn’t really need to be written into the script for the story to function. It’s amusing how the most seemingly fan pleasing moves brought the most derision.

    I’m not sure about you, but all the hope/despair talk began to wear thin for me, especially in Future arc. Not as fun when it isn’t coming from the crazy ramblings of Komaeda or Junko.

    • The Sakakura thing I was fine with since he immediately realized what a stupid mistake it was. The other two though made me go “oh right, visual novel”. Mind you, I could have seen that working in the game since it makes you work for that sort of happy ending in the same way Undertale makes you work for that True Pacifist ending, but I think we both know that doesn’t translate well to anime.

      Can’t say I’m a fan of how many of the questions from the first Danganronpa game were sort of handwaved with one word starting with the letter b.

      I would have been disappointed no matter what personally because I’ve watched enough horror/mystery stuff to know that mysteries lose all intrigue the moment you explain the mystery. As such, I didn’t care too much that anime-making techniques were the cause of everything. Actually, I kind of look back and laugh at that. The apocalypse happened all because of anime!

      I’m not sure about you, but all the hope/despair talk began to wear thin for me, especially in Future arc.

      Yeah, I didn’t include that annoyance because I was trying to keep the “Having Said That” section short.

      Well, let’s hope that new Prison School-esque game injects some new life into the franchise.

  3. Pingback: In Case You Missed It | 100WordAnime

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